Wednesday 29 June 2016

Christophorus Records release a terrific disc of sacred Russian music featuring the Moscow Patriarch Choir recorded in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow

After the October Revolution in 1917, the Communist regime confiscated church property, ridiculed religion, harassed believers, and propagated atheism in schools.
Thousands of churches and monasteries were taken over by the government and either destroyed or converted to secular use.

The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was originally built over 40 years during the 19th century. The original church was the scene of the 1882 world premiere of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. It was destroyed in 1931 on the order of Stalin. Its demolition was intended to make way for a Palace of the Soviets to house the country's legislature, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. Construction started in 1937 but was halted in 1941 when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Its steel frame was taken down the following year and the Palace never built. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Cathedral was rebuilt, replicating the original with extraordinary accuracy.

The Moscow Patriarch Choir of Christ the Saviour Cathedral have recorded for Christophorus Records  sacred choral works by Alexander Alexandrov, Nikolai Golovanov, Alexander Nikolsky, Pavel Chesnokov and Alexander Kastalsky representing a period of Russian history that saw great upheaval which had a profound effect on the lives and careers of these composers. Entitled Hidden Music of the Russian Church the Moscow Patriarch Choir is conducted by Ilya Tolkachev.

CHR 77402

Alexander Alexandrov (1883-1946) famously wrote the music for the national anthem of the Soviet Union. A former chorister in Kazan Cathedral and composer of sacred music, he seemed to find no difficulty transforming himself into a Soviet composer, even gaining favour with Stalin.

His Bless the Lord, O My Soul (First Antiphon from the Divine Liturgy) has a beautiful gentle flow with lovely textures from this fine cathedral choir, rising to moments of great power and ecstasy. In Thy Kingdom Remember Us, O Lord (Third Antiphon from the Divine Liturgy) rises from a hushed opening with this composer finding some lovely intervals and harmonies out of which tenor, Sergey Godin, rises with a lovely, very Russian voice. This is a tremendous piece that passionately rises ever upwards.

Soprano, Evgeniya Tschishikova opens We Hymn Thee (Fragment of the Eucharistic Canon from the Divine Liturgy) to lead the choir forward, bringing some terrific high notes, weaving around the choir before it ends on vocalised bass voices. Soprano, Irina Taraburina rises over a gentle choral line in the quite exquisite The Lord's Prayer (Our Father) (Hymn from the Divine Liturgy) with a wonderful arch of choral sound over which the soloist glides, often becoming quite passionate. Praise the Name of the Lord (A major) (Hymn from the All-Night Vigil) opens with female voices, soon joined by the male voices who alternate with the text before bringing fine sonorities and weaving a lovely choral tapestry, really soaring at times, filling the large acoustic of the Cathedral.

With Praise the Name of the Lord (D minor) (Hymn from the All-Night Vigil) the choir brings lovely, moderately flowing sonorous texture and harmonies, this choir following all the dynamic shaping of the music beautifully, all layers of voices sounding through the texture. From My Youth (Gradual Antiphon from the All-Night Vigil) is a quieter, gentler, yet moderately flowing work, beautifully written with lovely part writing. This choir finds great sensitivity and there are moments where a little chant is heard.

Nikolai Golovanov (1891-1953) was accepted into the Synodal Academy in Moscow at the age of nine and later taught there. Composing sacred choral works, he did not ingratiate himself with the Soviet authorities, with Stalin describing him as ‘an anti-Soviet phenomenon.’ He later pursued a career as a conductor giving a number of premiere performances, among them, in May 1924, Nikolai Myaskovsky's (1881-1950) Sixth Symphony.

He Who Closed the Abyss (Kontakion of the Great Saturday from the Midnight Office, Passion Week) rises magically out of the shadows with wonderfully rich, deep colours and harmonies, the deep Russian basses often heard to great effect.  

There is a quiet, beautifully blended opening to the Cherubic Hymn (arr. for mixed choir by M. Kotogarov) (Monastery Chant from the Divine Liturgy) this choir using the acoustic to fine effect with basses murmuring under the main body of the choir. There is a gentle rising and falling theme before lifting up in a more stirring, buoyant section midway and finding a beautifully controlled quiet coda.

Alexander Nikolsky (1874-1943) was the son of a Russian Orthodox priest and sang in church choirs from childhood. He was active as a teacher of choral music, music theory, counterpoint, and musical ethnography in a number of educational institutions in Moscow, including the Moscow Synodal School of Church Singing and the Moscow Conservatory as well as the author of numerous articles on choral and church music.  

Female voices gently rise in a most lovely theme to open O Gladsome Light (Vesperal Hymn from the All-Night Vigil), soon joined by the other voices, slowly gaining in strength until filling the space wonderfully, finding a terrific glow. There is a quiet moment with an undulating theme before the choir sounds out powerfully and confidently, alternating with the quieter idea until the coda.  

We Hymn Thee (Fragment of the Eucharistic Canon from the Divine Liturgy) rises out of the lower voices, full of rich colours and textures and much wonderful atmosphere before rising up to the heights magnificently. It leads through some wonderful passages before falling to the depths. A quite stunning work.

By the age of thirty Pavel Chesnokov (1877-1944) had completed nearly four hundred sacred choral works, but all of this came to a halt at the time of the Russian revolution. To overcome the problem of the ban on the composition of sacred music he composed an additional hundred secular works and conducted secular choirs such as the Moscow Academy Choir and the Bolshoi Theatre Choir.

Cherubic Hymn (from the Divine Liturgy) opens gently, quietly and beautifully with a lovely flow before rising magnificently with wonderfully controlled dynamics, the choir finding every last beauty of this work. They burst out joyfully before the coda to conclude this quite wonderful work.

Rich textures open It Is Meet and Right to Bless You, O Theotokos (Hymn to the Theotokos from the Divine Liturgy) with this choir finding a lovely flow and a subtle forward pulse, rising later in passion before a hushed end.

Alexander Kastalsky (1856-1926) taught piano at the Moscow Synodal School and became assistant precentor of the Moscow Synodal Choir. He became director of both until the school was dissolved and merged with the choral faculty of the Conservatory. The choir was forced to move from sacred to folk repertory for which he wrote over 130 works and established himself as an important composer of the neo-Russian style with an influence on choral composers such as Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943), Viktor Kalinnikov (1870-1927), Alexander Grechaninov (1864-1956) and Pavel Chesnokov.

A lone tenor, Sergey Godin opens St Simeon's Prayer (Hymn from the All-Night Vigil) soon joined by the choir as the tenor continues over them in this lovely undulating, very Russian work, bringing some especially fine choral textures before falling to the basses to conclude.

The choir rise up joyously in the opening of Let God Arise (Paschal Hymn, Eastern Orthodox Resurrection Service) with some lovely use of the acoustic from sections of the choir, rising and falling through some stunning passages to find an upward rising, unresolved coda.

This is a terrific disc of sacred Russian music that deserves to be heard. The engineers have captured the large acoustic of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour whilst retaining a warmth of sound and detail. The Moscow Patriarch Choir are first rate and have this music is in their blood. 

There are excellent booklet notes with translations in English and German. There are beautiful colour photographs of the new cathedral dome and the cathedral in the snow as well as a photograph of the destruction, in 1931, of the old cathedral.

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